This past half-year, I’ve teamed up with Lacanian scholar Dr. Nancy Gillespie to produce the KSW reading & workshop series “Negotiating the Social Bond of Poetics.” (Read the thematic abstract here.) We’ve been fortunate to host Peter Jaeger, Steve McCaffery, David Marriott, and most recently, Portland’s Kaia Sand & Jules Boykoff. {Please note that my part in this series has been as a Master of Organization and event planning only; when it comes to Lacanian theory I am strictly flaneur.}

Sand and Boykoff each delivered a wonderful reading, drawn primarily from their most recent works remember to wave and Hegemonic Love Potion, respectively. Boykoff treated us to a poem he’d written especially for their trip to Vancouver, titled “Calling Tonya Harding;” apropos, as their reading was approximately 30 days before the 2010 Winter Olympics descend on my city.

The following afternoon’s seminar workshop encompassed the question of whether poetry can in fact enact real social change, touching on poetic work in the public sphere that has been performed by Sand, Boykoff and their contemporaries, such as: sidewalk blogger Susan Schultz, Jen Hofer’s escritorio publico, David Buuck’s enviro poetics, Mark Nowak’s poetry dialogues with workers around the world, and Laura Elrick’s Stalk piece.

Sand discussed the unfortunately widespread thinking (in poetry and in arts practices in general) that the commonplace should be privileged because it is what people already understand. Why does accessibility have to aim for mass audience? Later in the seminar, an attendee tied this to the “tyranny of the no-brow,” for example, the Canada Council’s Random Acts of Poetry a program that was seen as “part of the problem” inasmuch as poetry is fetishized/marginalized/expected to participate in the massification of the middlebrow.

Boykoff spoke about new genre public art and space, saying that space is socially produced. Spatial politics are therefore forged on the anvil of social relations. He suggested that Kaia Sand’s poetry walks use ‘inexpertdom’ to create relationships between spaces.

Tying this all back in to Lacan, Boykoff discussed a possible lateral tie between the inexpert & Lacan’s hysteric, which he argued might open up a new discourse or a new possibility of discourse. He also wondered if we might think up a new word, or at least a new theoretical frame, for poetry? Poetry is an experience unto itself, not an annotation or a commentary on an experience.

At this point some of the seminar attendees wondered if in Vancouver we tend to fetishize space and poetry as process rather than as social practice?

Towards the end of the seminar we talked about Dale Smith’s concept of Slow Poetry as a possible method to refute/resist the hyper-consumptive model that urges continual production.

In all, an edifying way to spend a wintry Sunday afternoon. I’ll be pondering the points raised for some time.

Please check the Kootenay School of Writing’s website for information on the next “Negotiating the Social Bond of Poetics” event.


***I’d previously written that Vancouverites fetishize space/poetry as social practice rather than as process, however this is untrue and was a misreading from my notes. Thanks to Aaron Vidaver for pointing this out to me.***

Nikki Reimer blogs and plans arts events in Vancouver, where she is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and a board member at W2 Community Media Arts. Her poetry has been published in such magazines as Matrix, Front, Prism, BafterC and filling Station. A chapbook, fist things first, was recently published by Wrinkle Press and a book, [sic], is forthcoming from Frontenac House. She has never been to grad school.